Five things to know about the Justice Department’s choice for special counsel

The Justice Department on Wednesday evening announced the appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve as the special counsel overseeing the bureau’s investigation into Russian election interference.

The move came amid intense pressure from Democrats and a few Republicans for a special prosecutor or independent commission in the wake of President Trump’s decision last week to abruptly fire FBI Director James Comey.

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The bureau’s investigation includes exploring any links or coordination between associates of Trump’s presidential campaign and Moscow.

Here are five things to know about Mueller, who has been appointed by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to oversee the Russia probe.

 

Mueller took the helm of the FBI one week before 9/11

Mueller was nominated by President George W. Bush to lead the FBI on Sept. 4, 2001, just one week before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

As such, he oversaw the transition of the bureau into a more rigorous intelligence-gathering body, rather than just a criminal investigative organization.

Ron Hosko, who served as FBI assistant director under Mueller, said that he led the FBI through tough times with a steady hand.

“Mueller saw the organization through very rocky times with a changing threat,” Hosko told The Hill.

“He guided the FBI through a period of tremendous change,” Sean Joyce, FBI deputy director under Mueller, said ahead of his departure in the fall of 2013. 

Mueller, a graduate of the University of Virginia Law School, discussed his effort to transform the FBI in an interview with UVA Lawyer in 2002.

“We are shifting to counter-terrorism nearly 500 additional agents. But I don't think it will be a dramatic shift,” Mueller said. “What we have to do — and what we haven't done in the past — is build up the analytical capacity both in technology and the analysts that take the information that we gather, analyze it, and be better able to disseminate it. That is the challenge.”

 

He was appointed by Bush, kept on by Obama

Mueller served as FBI director for 12 years, making him the longest-serving director since J. Edgar Hoover. He was asked to stay beyond his 10-year term by President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaHearing for Twitter hack suspect Zoom-bombed by porn, rap music Read: Sally Yates testimony Michelle Obama says she is managing 'low-grade depression' MORE in 2011, a request he granted.

“Given the ongoing threats facing the United States, as well as the leadership transitions at other agencies like the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency, I believe continuity and stability at the FBI is critical at this time,” Obama said in a May 2011 statement.

Obama credited Mueller with "transform[ing] the FBI after September 11, 2001, into a pre-eminent counter-terrorism agency” and displaying “extraordinary leadership and effectiveness at protecting our country every day since.”

Mueller stepped down in 2013, relinquishing his role to James Comey, whom Trump chose to fire last week.

 

He has decades of public service

Mueller, a native of New York, has served the United States in numerous capacities: as a Marine, a prosecutor, a U.S. attorney and an FBI director.

His public service dates back to the 1970s when he served as a platoon leader in the Vietnam War. Mueller, who was wounded in combat, earned several decorations, including a Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

“I have been very lucky,” Mueller told the UVA Lawyer in 2002. “I always felt I should spend some time paying it back.”

Mueller served more than a decade in U.S attorney’s offices in San Francisco, Boston and Washington, D.C. He served in the Justice Department as an assistant to Attorney General Richard Thornburgh in 1989 and began leading the department’s criminal division in 1990.

In 1998, he became U.S. attorney in San Francisco and served in that capacity until 2001, when Bush selected him for FBI director.

As he takes on his latest role, Mueller will resign from his private law firm, WilmerHale, to avoid any potential conflicts of interest, the Justice Department said.

 

He has broad support 

Mueller earned effusive praise from lawmakers and others immediately following the announcement Wednesday evening.

“He has sterling credentials and is above reproach. Because of his experience leading the FBI for more than a decade, Mr. Mueller has established relationships with FBI agents and will be able to move forward quickly,” Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsAnalysis finds record high number of woman versus woman congressional races Group of GOP senators back more money for airlines to pay workers Republicans uncomfortably playing defense MORE (R-Maine), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said in a statement.

“He is well respected on both sides of the aisle and will inspire public confidence in the investigation.”

“Mueller is a great selection. Impeccable credentials. Should be widely accepted,” House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Jason ChaffetzJason ChaffetzThe myth of the conservative bestseller Elijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 House Oversight panel demands DeVos turn over personal email records MORE (R-Utah) wrote on Twitter in reaction to the news.

Preet Bharara, a New York federal prosecutor who said he was fired by the Trump administration, described Mueller as “one of the best.”

“Having known him for years, I believe special counsel Mueller is a very good thing. He is one of the best — independent and no-nonsense,” Bharara wrote on Twitter.  

Hosko described him as “one of the most trusted faces in government” in recent years who is “apolitical to a fault.”

“Independent, no nonsense, decisive, tough,” Hosko said. “Bob Mueller is a patriot.”

Several Democrats immediately signaled their support for the decision to appoint a special prosecutor.

"A special counsel is very much needed in this situation and Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein has done the right thing,” Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerGroup of GOP senators back more money for airlines to pay workers GOP super PAC launching August ad blitz Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package MORE (D-N.Y.) said in a statement. “Former Director Mueller is exactly the right kind of individual for this job.”

 

He has a history with Comey

Mueller was among a contingent of officials who, along with James Comey, threatened to resign over a Bush-era domestic surveillance program.

The Justice Department had deemed the National Security Agency's domestic spying program illegal, which precipitated a dramatic 2004 episode in which Comey rushed to the hospital bed of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to beat out White House aides on their way to pressure him to reauthorize the program.

Years later, Comey testified that he, Ashcroft and Mueller had organized a massive resignation over the program as the White House pushed for its reauthorization despite their advice.

Comey delivered an account of the dramatic events before the Senate Judiciary Committee in May 2007.